Virginia’s 2022 Governor’s Cup Winner – Cana Vineyards 2019 Unité Reserve
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
On March 24th, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced Cana Vineyards & Winery as the winner of the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup for its 2019 Unité Reserve, a Petit Verdot-heavy red blend. Winemaker Melanie Natoli accepted the Cup at a packed gala, held at Richmond’s Main Street Station. This year’s Governor’s Cup was the first time the Gala was open to the public.
Melanie made history as the first time a woman has ever received the Governor’s Cup. The competition also set a record with three women winemakers – Melanie, Maggie Malick of Maggie Malick Wine Caves, and Rachel Stinson Vrooman of Stinson Vineyards – behind four of the competition’s 12 top-scoring wines, which will form the Governor’s Case.
The remaining Case wines, representing Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley, were also revealed. Albemarle Ciderworks won Best in Show for its 2019 Virginia Hewes Crab cider. 127 gold medal winners were announced earlier in the month.
The Governor’s Cup is Virginia’s premiere wine competition, featuring wines that are entirely grown and made in the state. Competition Director and Master of Wine Jay Youmans changed the format and strengthened judging standards in 2012, turning the Cup into a world-class competition. Cases of these top-scoring wines are sent to wine critics around the world, promoting the Virginia wine industry to a national and international audience.
|The 2022 Virginia’s Governor’s Case
1. Cana Vineyards & Winery 2019 Unité Reserve
2. 50 West Vineyards 2019 Ashby Gap
3. Barboursville Vineyards 2020 Vermentino Reserve
4. Cana Vineyards & Winery 2019 LeMariage
5. Maggie Malick Wine Caves 2020 Albariño
6. Michael Shaps Wineworks 2019 Chardonnay
7. Pollak Vineyards 2017 Meritage
8. Rockbridge Vineyard 2018 V d’Or
9. Shenandoah Vineyards 2019 Reserve
10. Stinson Vineyards 2017 Meritage
11. Trump Winery 2015 Brut Reserve
12. Wisdom Oak Winery 2019 Nineteen
Jay and his team of judges blind tasted over 600 entries, their highest number ever. This year’s competition was marked by two trends; the rising quality of Virginia wine as a whole, and the diversity of wines the state is capable of producing.
Competition judge and wine writer Frank Morgan said of this year’s competition, “In the ten years I’ve served as a judge for the Virginia Governor’s Cup, the quality of wines was higher across the range of varieties. I was especially impressed with the Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and especially the red Bordeaux-style red blends.”
Annette Boyd, Director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, also noted how this year’s scores were buoyed by Virginia’s overall improving quality as well as a pair of especially strong vintages. The majority of wines came from 2017 and 2019, harvests winemaker Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards called “Excellent to Outstanding” due to fruit that was almost universally praised as ripe and well balanced.
This year’s scores back up their observations. On a 100 point scale, those scoring 85-89 points earn silver and 90 or more are awarded gold. The strength of this year’s Cup submissions were such that all but a handful won at least silver.
Virginia Wine Looking Beyond Bordeaux
Virginia’s best-known wines are dominated by French grapes, and this year’s Governor’s Case continues the trend. Bordeaux-heavy red blends made up over half the roster, alongside a Chardonnay and Chardonnay-based sparkling. Rounding out the Case is a dessert wine, Vermentino, and the Case’s first Albariño.
Yet Virginia is still a young wine region, experimenting with new varieties to find those that work best in our terroir. A number of these gold medal winners showcase how Virginia’s exploration of new grapes and styles of winemaking made this year’s gold medal wines its most diverse set ever, taking cues from both California and Europe but forging a style that is distinctly Virginia.
Judges awarded the Cup’s first gold to a Tempranillo (Spain) from Maggie Malick Wine Caves and the first gold in over a decade to a Syrah (southern France) from Beliveau Farm Winery. Albariño (Spain) and Nebbiolo (Italy) were well represented despite relatively small plantings in the state. Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot, lesser-known French varieties winegrowers praise for their suitability in Virginia’s climate, also made strong showings.
Dry and off-dry wines made with hybrid grapes (a crossing of American and Mediterranean vines) also had their best-ever showing. Beliveau Farm also won for its 2017 Soul Singer Chambourcin, and both Grace Estate Winery and Old House Vineyards were recognized for their Vidals. While hybrids have traditionally lacked mass market appeal, climate change is forcing vineyards to reevaluate what they should plant and these under-appreciated varieties are amongst those leading the way.
This diversity isn’t limited to grapes; sparkling wine, cider, and mead all set new medal records in the Cup.
Six sparklings took gold. The nationwide popularity of sparkling wines has seen local bubbly sales surge, with a number of Virginia wineries now offering everything from casual pét–nats to serious méthode champenoise-style wines.
Ciders and meads were also well represented, earning 23 gold medals between them. These beverages reflect the changing demographics in Virginia’s beverage market as new drinkers shift to lighter offerings. Nearly 1/3rd of new ‘wineries’ in Virginia are actually cideries or meaderies. The Cup’s ciders were reviewed by a separate set of judges.
Many of this year’s gold medal winners are still available at their respective wineries. Wine lovers can download the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup® Gold Medal Wine Trail app at Virginiawine.Org. The App allows users to plan their trips around wineries that earned gold at the Governor’s Cup, enter raffles for prizes, and view discounts.
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Follow his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.